Posted on August 24, 2023
The following article is the translated summary of the interview from the August 2022 (No.93) issue of NPO no Hiroba.
Women Empowerment League, abbreviated as WE League, was launched in September 2021. WE League is the first women’s professional soccer league in Japan. WE League and JNPOC have worked together in the WE ACTION MEETING, co-hosting some of its sessions discussing gender issues. Ayumi Kaihori, WE League’s Community Organizer and an ex-member of the Japan women’s national football team, reflected on WE League’s first year with us.
Ms. Ayumi Kaihori
As WE League’s Community Organizer, I have concentrated on helping players perform at their best. Being a professional athlete is quite a different experience for them. They are constantly under huge pressure. I believe valuing each athlete is the best way to let them maximize their achievements and make our supporters more energized.
WE League stands for Women Empowerment League. By that we do not mean just assisting women flourish but rather helping each one of them realize her own potential and unleashing it to make others feel good and charged. You can say such friendliness resonates with WE League’ s games, where each team’s cheerleading squad customarily roots for the other side before a match begins. I, for one, would like to create a space where athletes and spectators exchange their energy so that both continue striving forward. I believe even a large movement is a consequence of multilayered small considerations and passions. Tackling a small issue at hand could eventually lead to a tangible result. I hope WE League will be at the center of such vortex.
After a WE League game, the players on both sides usually make a round tour of the field to greet spectators. It has been a tradition in women’s soccer matches, and this had begun spontaneously before the professional league was launched. Women’s games used to be very compact, and athletes could even make eye-to-eye contact with the spectators. I believe many fans of WE League appreciate such warm relationship and I hope it will help us increase our spectators.
I think the Community Organizer’s job is connecting various members of the communities surrounding WE League, including ex-players, our supporters, and media. I also facilitate communication between WE League’s management and athletes. Having been a player myself helps me in being more involved in WE League’s activities like WE ACTION where I can share my experiences. In addition, I work with a town in Saga prefecture called Miyaki to help their under-15 female players develop their own soccer team. When I say ‘community,’ the word does include our desire to increase our supporters, but it also encompasses what the league can and should do for society.
At the end of our first season, I identified several issues where we can improve. We need to make ourselves more appealing to the spectators and offer more values to attract additional sponsors and media attentions. In Japan, the total number of women’s soccer players is only 6% that of their male counterparts. We encounter many obstacles in increasing the number of women’s athletes, especially in rural area. But I believe having these issues means there is big room to grow for the sport. Thanks to the many different experiences I have had since my retirement from the game, I have learned to see things from different viewpoints, helping me realize the women’s games’ potentials.
WE League has introduced the position of Welfare Officer, first amongst soccer leagues in Japan. A welfare officer is in charge of having those involved in the sport be respectful to each other and realize what fair play means, and creating an atmosphere in which anyone can enjoy the game feeling safe. At WE League, each team has at least one such officer.
Our WE ACTION program aims to make collective impacts on social issues with a flat, non-hierarchical collaborative structure amongst athletes, clubs, and partner companies. I trust that such a flat structure would allow us to have long lasting relationships with our sponsors. And as we tackle social issues, I hope our efforts would permeate our stadiums and help make our spectators feel more hopeful as well.
Interview and original text by NPO no Hiroba editorial staff, originally published in August 2022; translated by JNPOC.